Wellcome Unit Seminar, Monday 3/3/14

At: The Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine
Seminar Room, 47 Banbury Road, Oxford

Coffee is available from 2.00pm – Seminars begin at 2.15pm prompt

‘Medicine and Media’
Conveners: Dr Amelia Bonea and Dr Cressida Jervis Read

Week 7 – 3 March
Sarah Hodges, University of Warwick
The Progress of Plastic: Medical Garbage and its Afterlives in Contemporary India
This talk engages with the problematic of ‘medicine and the media’ in a very literal way—by looking at the medium of plastic within medical practice. In this talk, I use ‘the progress of plastic’ in two, slightly different, senses to think about the career of plastic in medicine: progress as ‘improvement’, on the one hand, and the meaning of progress as just ‘movement’, on the other hand.

In order to do this, this talk charts three modes of ‘the progress of plastic’ within the spaces of modern medicine:
(1)    The material ways in which plastic made its way into everyday clinical practice during the second half of the twentieth century
(2)    The discursive career of plastic as a sign of progress within medical practice: its rise and its reconsideration
(3)    An exploration of the movements of used, discarded medical plastic around the city of Chennai, India

What fuels these progresses of plastic? To anticipate my argument somewhat, I claim that the discursive and literal progress of medical plastic across Chennai is animated by conflicting perceptions of risk—and opportunity—that medical plastics present.”

Dr. Hodges works on the social and cultural history of modern South Asia, specifically the politics of health in colonial and postcolonial India (particularly the Tamil-speaking south). Her interests lie at the intersection of a number of fields: modern South Asian history, gender studies, anthropology, and the history of science, technology and medicine.

She is currently finishing a book about the waste economies of medical garbage in Chennai, India, titled: Biotrash: The Risky Business of Medical Garbage in India.

Selected publications:

Contraception, Colonialism and Commerce: Birth Control in South India, 1920-1940 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).

Reproductive Health in India: History, Politics, Controversies, Editor (Delhi: Orient Longman, 2006).


‘Umbilical Cord Blood Banking and its Interruptions: Notes from Chennai, India.’ Economy and Society 42, 4 (2013).

Medical Garbage and the Making of Neoliberalism in India.’ Economic and Political Weekly (November 30, 2013).

‘”It all changed after Apollo”: Healthcare Myths and their Making in Contemporary India.’ Indian Journal of Medical Ethics 10, 4 (2013).

‘The Global Menace.’ Social History of Medicine (2012) 25,3, pp. 719-728.

Please note there is no parking at the Unit